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Battling Headaches as a Competitive Gamer

Written by: Jasmine Chiam

In the past few years 92% of gamers reported spending more time gaming, and this massively increased their exposure to headache triggers. But while 71% of gamers expressed concern about headaches resulting from extended gaming sessions, many continue to persist and play despite the pain [1].

Unfortunately, gamers who endure the pain and continue to train, play, and compete despite it tend to experience decreased focus and poorer overall performance.

But before you Google your symptoms and end up on a page about deadly brain tumors (guilty as charged), let’s review the facts. Headaches are a common occurrence. And in gamers, headaches are more often associated with computer vision syndrome rather than a malignant disease [2].

We’ll explore the simple management steps you can take to counter and prevent gaming-associated headaches. Other than that, we’ll look at the different types of headaches (and their symptoms) that gamers tend to encounter and when you should visit a doctor for further examination.

Acute Headache Management & Prevention

Treating a simple headache isn’t rocket science. Nonetheless, you can adapt and tailor your management options to target the most likely cause in your situation.

If you find yourself gaming for hours on end with no breaks in between, it’s best to slot in enough time to rest, recharge, and stretch. It’s also crucial to stay well-hydrated, which we can forget when deeply engrossed in intense matches or training sessions. Because dehydration can cause headaches, try to maintain adequate water intake each day [3].

Uncorrected eyesight problems, such as nearsightedness or astigmatism, may also lead to computer vision syndrome (CVS), an umbrella term used to describe the host of problems related to vision [4]. Headaches are one symptom of CVS. Thus, getting your eyesight corrected can prevent CVS and headache occurrences.

Other than that, some gamers and esports athletes lack sleep, which can lead to tension headaches [5]. Sleep deprivation opens the door to a host of mental and physical ailments, so try to get sufficient quality sleep at night. It may also help to go easy on coffee and energy drinks, especially nearing your bedtime.

The Most Common Gaming Headache

The two most common gaming headaches are migraines and tension-type headaches. There is currently extremely little research conducted to confirm which type of headache takes the lead in prevalence. Nonetheless, most gamers report experiencing either or both of these [7].

Tension-type Headaches

Tension-type headaches usually involve a persistent, dull ache described as a band around the head. These headaches may be associated with tenderness of the head and neck muscles [8].

Tension headaches may last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours or even days. More often than not, tension-type headaches are not severe enough to interfere drastically with your day-to-day activities.  They also do not worsen with physical activity [8].

Painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and paracetamol are often used to relieve the pain and discomfort [8]. Understandably, competitions and training sessions may heave massive pressure upon you. However, it’s best to find time to relax, unwind, and recuperate from stressful events, as increased stress is associated with this type of headache.

Migraine Headaches

Migraines normally involve immense pain on one side of the head and are often accompanied by a throbbing sensation that worsens with movement. Hence, migraine attacks can disrupt your daily activities. Sometimes, migraines may also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound [9].

If you’re experiencing migraine attacks, resting in a dark and quiet room may help with alleviating the pain and discomfort. Put away your gadgets, take a break from gaming, and maintain adequate hydration while treating the migraine. Placing hot and cold packs on your head or neck are pain relief options, but you may wish to seek advice from your healthcare professional on where and how to use them.

Medications such as paracetamol, aspirin, and triptans are often used to treat migraines [10]. To err on the side of caution, though, consult a healthcare professional before using these medications.

Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headache involves pain felt in the head, but the source of pain lies in the neck. There must be evidence of a disorder within the soft tissues of the neck or the cervical spine for a diagnosis to be made [11].

The pain often occurs on one side of the head and may be associated with neck pain. If you have this type of headache, you may also experience a decreased range of motion in the neck [11]. Other than that, the pain may worsen when you move your neck or apply pressure to a specific region of your neck.

The most suitable treatment should target the cause of neck pain. Your pain specialist or physical therapist may recommend medications, physical therapy, or exercise based on your condition [11]. Cervicogenic headaches are rare but should be treated with advice from a healthcare professional.


Gamers commonly experience tension-type headaches and migraines. These usually resolve, sometimes even without treatment. However, they may become massive hindrances during your esports training sessions and competitions.

Competing against top players is stressful, but competing against top players while dealing with a headache is a double whammy.

Nonetheless, simple prevention and management options can prevent that from happening, allowing you to perform your best during practice sessions and competitions. If your headaches frequently recur or persist despite the use of medications, though, it’s best to discuss this with your doctor.

Disclaimer: This is an educational post on managing headaches as a gamer. It should not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. EsportsHeadlines.com and the author of this post disclaim any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, as it is not meant for diagnostic or treatment purposes.